Letter of the Week: Culture Determines Whether We See Older People as “Slow” or “Wise”


I was sad when I read the ageism episode narrated by Ms. Ong Seok Khim (Makes You Feel I Didn’t Belong on the Dance Floor Because of My Age, July 26).

At a recent community conference on healthy aging, I asked attendees (aged 50+) to list the first three words that come to mind when they think of an older person .

The three most common words were “slow”, “forgetful” and “wisdom”.

According to Dr. Becca Levy, author of Breaking The Age Code, the word most often answered to this question in Japan is “wisdom” and “loss of memory” in the United States.

Age-related stereotypes are culturally influenced and tend to be established early in life and precede changes in health outcomes and functioning.

Dr. Levy’s research found that people with more positive beliefs about age live an average of 7.5 years longer, after controlling for age, gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health.

Research has also shown that older people with more positive beliefs about age were more likely to fully recover from severe disability, were less likely to develop dementia, and walked faster than those with negative perceptions of age. old age.

More recent studies of cohorts of older adults have reported that negative age-related stereotypes are associated with accelerated cellular aging.

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported that older people with more positive beliefs about age are also more likely to think that older people who are sick with Covid-19 should seek treatment, while those who have negative beliefs about age tend to think they should forgo treatment.

Old age can be a fluid social construct.

There is immense value when age is viewed in a positive light, even more so in an aging population like ours.

I am happy to no longer see our aging population described as a “silver tsunami”.

For Singapore, there is certainly significant social capital in the large number of healthy and better educated older adults by 2040 and beyond.

Ideas on how we can better realize this capital should be welcome.

Wee Shiou Liang (Dr.)


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